To get to the Ile de Ré, or Isle de Ré, on the Southwest coast of France, you need to take the famous TGV from Paris to La Rochelle, which I did and took me around 3 hours; a bit expensive if you are traveling on a budget, I would say - €90 roundtrip, during off-peak. From there, there are many buses running quite often to the island, which is reached after crossing the 3 Km bridge that connects La Rochelle to the mainland.
Sunshine reflecting on a turquoise ocean, golden sand, palm trees along the coast, cheerful tourists jogging on the beach and showing off well-built and tanned figures... coming from Brazil, that’s exactly what I thought I would find once I got there, but the view found was a bit different, although not disappointing.
An endless view of boats anchored at the ports is given to the luck ones who have the chance to visit the island, and just a couple of hours on the island are needed for the wind start whispering welcome words. The unpleasant part comes during the low tide, when you can smell a strong odor coming from the oysters and mussels, which many locals spend the day collecting – but as everything else in life, after a while you get used to it.
The island is famous for salt production; more than 80 workers are responsible for keeping the tradition in producing the “white gold”. Along its 30 Km in length, there are many cycle paths, all of them well signalized, making the bike the best and most recommended transportation to walk around and explore the island, which is divided in many charming small villages.
Renting a bike is easy and quite affordable, so on the first chance I had, I mounted on the two wheels creature and started the almost 7 Km from La Couarde to the capital San Martin de Ré. In less then 40 minutes I reached a bustling village surrounding a port that seemed to be the point of sailors and fishermen, and full of antique and souvenir stores, where the Ernest-Cognacq Museum can also be found. I got out of the bike and enjoyed a couple of hours strolling along the narrow and stony streets, had an waffle topped with a homemade caramel produced from salt, and treated my senses at the main market, where a varied sort of fresh seafood was been sold.
During the rest of the week I visited all the different points of the island. In Saint-Clemént-des-Baleines, on the South, is the lighthouse and I was told it’s possible to see whales swimming around from time to time, although I didn’t see any. Rivedoux, the first beach after the bridge crossing, on the other edge of the island, showed more refinement. After 2,5 hours biking to get there, I sat in a restaurant and enjoyed a dish of marinated mussels while drinking a glass of Chardonnay, taking the time to clean up my mind, simply watching the ocean and the seagulls ballet in front of me.
I stopped in Saint-Marie, visited the church in Ars-en-Ré, sunbathed on the white sands in La Couarde, walked around the street market in La Flotte, and fell in love with the simple and magic Loix, with its small church, Main Square and nothing else, but with a magic atmosphere, where facing the ocean or the church, some locals sat with a paraphernalia of paintbrushes and paints, and in silence, were reproducing the view in watercolor.
Although it wasn’t that often a local could speak some English, my lack of French didn’t really matter, thanks to the warm and friendly hospitality found everywhere. A relaxing trip, a gift for the eyes and the mind, which calls for a reply one day.